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NIH Training Program Faculty Research Interests

Thomas Albright, Salk Institute
Dr. Albright's laboratory focuses on the neural structures and events underlying the perception of motion, form and color. Through an integrative approach, which combines neurophysiological and psychophysical techniques, and computational modeling of neural networks, his laboratory is beginning to understand the mechanisms of higher-level vision in the visual cortex and to define their unique contributions to visual perception and visually-guided behavior.
Adam Aron, Department of Psychology, UCSD
Dr. Aron uses functional and structural MRI and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to study neuropsychological and neurological patients to address a range of questions related to cognitive control. In particular, he is interested in how frontal/basal-ganglia circuits are engaged during cognition and in how pathology of these circuits relates to neuropsychiatric conditions such as impulse control disorders.
Ursula Bellugi, Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Salk Institute
Dr. Bellugi's laboratory studies the biological foundations of language and cognition. One approach she has taken involves examination of languages in different modalities: comparison of structure, acquisition, and processing of spoken and signed languages. Studies of signed languages of deaf people have shown that fully expressive languages can arise, outside of the mainstream of human spoken languages that exhibit the complexities of linguistic organization found in all spoken languages. Another line of research in her laboratory investigates the biological bases of cognition through coordinated studies across disciplines, involving selected populations with specific neurodevelopmental disorders of higher cognitive functions such as those with Williams Syndrome.
James Brewer, Ph.D. Departments of Radiology and Neurosciences, UCSD
Dr. Brewer’s laboratory uses functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study memory processes in volunteers with healthy memory and in patients with memory difficulties, such as in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This research focuses upon the medial temporal lobe (MTL), which shows selective damage early in the course of AD. The laboratory studies the contributions to memory that are made by distinct MTL substructures and the interaction of these structures with other brain regions.
Richard Buxton, Radiology Department, UCSD
Dr. Buxton is a physicist by training and founding director of the UCSD Center for Functional MRI. His research interests focus on recently developed fMRI techniques for measuring patterns of activation in the brain, including basic studies of the physiological mechanisms that underlie fMRI , novel approaches to the design and analysis of fMRI experiments, and development of new imaging techniques to directly measure tissue blood flow.
Patricia Churchland, Department of Philosophy, UCSD
The experimental philosophy laboratory directed by P. Churchland focuses on questions concerning the reduction of psychology to neuroscience: whether such reduction is possible, what the role of computer modeling might be in discovering the nature of the mind-brain interplay, and whether a computer can think. She examines the nature of the self, free will, consciousness, learning and remembering, and the basis for morality in the light of progress that can be made by understanding the nature of brain function.
Eric Courchesne, Neurosciences Department, UCSD
Dr. Courchesne is interested in understanding attentional processing at the cellular, neural systems, and behavioral levels. He recently has obtained evidence that neocerebellar lesions can lead to dysfunction in attentional processes and may underlie deficits in shifting attention in patients with autism. Ongoing neuroimaging, neurophysiological, genetic and behavioral studies are investigating the neurobiology of autism and examining the roles of the neocerebellum and other neural systems in the dynamic control of selective attention.
Anders Dale, Neurosciences and Radiology Departments, UCSD
Dr. Dale is co-Director of the Multimodal Imaging Laboratory and specializes in the development and utilization of multimodality imaging technologies including functional MRI, DTI, PET, MEG, EEG, and optical imaging. Among his projects are the development of software tools for automated segmentation of the brain and application of these techniques for assessment of anatomical and physiological changes associated with normal brain development and aging, as well as brain related diseases such as schizophrenia, autism and Alzheimer's disease. Another major focus of Dr. Dale's research is on mapping the genetic influences on brain development using brain imaging and genome-wide association studies.
Virginia de Sa, Cognitive Science
Dr. De Sa studies unsupervised category learning and has developed an algorithm that makes use of information from other sensory modalities to constrain and help the learning of categories within single modalities. She has also shown that supervised learning can be improved by changing the way inputs interact. She has applied these algorithms to real-world visual and auditory data and compared them to human performance on the same tasks.
Karen Dobkins, Psychology
Dr. Dobkins studies visual perception and its underlying neural mechanisms, with an emphasis on development and plasticity. She focuses particularly on visual motion and color processing as a means of exploring the link between neural function and visual perception. Her research includes the study of altered visual perception in deaf subjects and the effects of selective attention on color and motion processing.
Jeffrey Elman, Department of Cognitive Science, UCSD
The major focus of Dr. Elman's has been on connectionist models of language, ranging from acoustic/phonetic processing to syntactic and semantic levels. In particular, he has used simple recurrent networks for predicting time series that occur in natural language. These networks are capable of extracting and representing abstract grammatical structure of considerable complexity. He has focused on modeling neural development in his recent work, applying neural network models to investigate problems of learning and change under different assumptions about the initial state of the organism and its subsequent development. (Rethinking Innateness: A Connectionist Perspective on Development, MIT Press, 1996).
Eric Halgren, Neurosciences and Radiology Departments, UCSD
Dr. Halgren is co-Director of the Multimodal Imaging Laboratory and carries out research that combines fMRI, MEG, and EEG within the context of structural MRI for high-resolution spatiotemporal mapping of brain activity during cognition. He validates these measures using intracranial recordings from microelectrode arrays in patients with epilepsy. Dr. Halgren's research aims to identify, locate and characterize the neurocognitive stages used to encode and interpret meaningful stimuli such as words and faces. The overall goal is to understand fundamental integrative processes of memory and cognition at the synaptic and system levels.
Steven Hillyard, Neurosciences Department, UCSD
Dr. Hillyard’s research combines electrophysiological and magnetoencephalographic recordings with functional MRI to study the brain systems that mediate selective attention. The overall aim is to identify and characterize spatio-temporal patterns of neural activity in different cortical areas that underlie specific information processing stages during perception, selective attention, and stimulus recognition. Another major line of research is aimed at identifying the mechanisms by which auditory and visual stimuli are integrated in the brain to form multimodal perceptual experience.
David Kleinfeld, Physics
Dr. Kleinfeld studies how the vibrissa sensorimotor system of rats enables animals to extract a stable picture of the world from the blur of inputs obtained with their actively moving sensors. Ongoing studies address the detailed muscular control of the vibrissae, and the modularity and interaction of brainstem nuclei involved in exploratory whisking. Additional projects include electrophysiological investigation of correlates of vibrissa contact and the fusion of contact and position signals, as well as exploration of intracellular mechanisms for nonlinear mixing of rhythmic whisking signals in neocortex. Experiments also address the sensory feedback in cortical control of exploratory whisking, and the roles of arousal and cholinergic input in the control of whisking.
Richard Krauzlis, Systems Neurobiology Laboratory, Salk Institute
Dr. Krauzlis’ research is aimed at understanding the brain mechanisms that link motor control to sensory and cognitive processing using a variety of state-of-the-art techniques to monitor and manipulate neural activity. The long-term goal is to understand how neural circuits distributed across multiple brain regions coordinate motor outputs such as eye movements to higher-order processes such as attention, perception, and executive control. This research provides new perspectives on the processing steps responsible for executing voluntary eye movements to attended visual targets.
Marta Kutas, Department of Cognitive Science, UCSD
Dr. Kutas investigates language and memory processes, primarily using electrophysiological recording techniques with ERPs. Her studies of memory have shown specific patterns of brain activation associated with encoding and recognition processes for both episodic and semantic memory. Other processes under investigation include semantic and repetition priming and amnestic memory disorders. Dr. Kutas’ methods reveal the precise timing of memory storage and retrieval operations for both verbal and non-verbal items.
Howard Poizner, Institute for Neural Computation, UCSD
Dr. Poizner’s goal is to better understand the neural bases of human executive motor control. He analyzes the nature of the breakdown in motor control in patients with selective failure of specific motor (or sensory) systems of the brain, such as occurs in Parkinson's disease, cerebellar ataxia, or limb deafferentation. He is also investigating how Parkinson’s patients reach to targets presented in 3D space under various conditions of visual feedback; and using 3D immersive virtual environments.
John Reynolds, Systems Neurobiology Laboratory, Salk Institute
Dr. Reynolds studies the neural mechanisms of selective visual attention at the level of the individual neuron and the cortical circuit and relates these to perception and conscious awareness. He records from multiple neurons in the visual cortex of monkeys to identify the regions where the representations of objects compete with one another and create a computational bottleneck. He seeks to understand this selection process using a combination of psychophysics, neurophysiology, and computational neural modeling approaches.
Laura Schreibman, Department of Psychology, UCSD
Dr. Schreibman's research interests are in the area of applied behavior analysis. Specifically, behavior modification, experimental psychopathology in children, developmental disabilities (particularly childhood autism), generalization and maintenance of acquired behavior change, and discrimination learning. Current research projects include: development of individualized treatment programs for children with autism, parent training, language and social skills training, and remediation of deviant attention/learning patterns.
Terrence Sejnowski, Salk Institute and Department of Biology, UCSD
Dr. Sejnowski uses computational models and experimental approaches at several levels of investigation ranging from the biophysical level to the systems level. Realistic models of electrical and chemical signal processing within and between neurons are used as an adjunct to physiological experiments. Network models based on the response properties of neurons are studied to explore how populations of neurons code and process information. These studies are aimed at elucidating how sensory information is represented and how sensorimotor transformations are organized. (Computational Brain, MIT Press, 1992, 23 Questions in Systems Neuroscience, Oxford, 2006).
Tatyana Sharpee, Salk Institute
Dr. Sharpee works on theoretical principles for information processing in the brain. She is interested in how sensory processing in the brain is shaped by the animal's need to create parsimonious representations of events in the outside world. Her approaches are derived from methods in statistical physics, mathematics, and information theory. She is particularly interested in understanding how neural feature selectivity is influenced by, and to what extent is determined by, the statistics of real-world inputs. One of her long-term goals is to understand how invariant feature selectivity is achieved in cortex.
Joan Stiles, Psychology
Dr. Stiles' research interests center on the early development of spatial cognitive functioning, with specific interest in the development of the young child's ability to analyze spatial patterns. One line of research focuses on conceptual development in normal preschool children. That work examines the child's ability to encode a set of parts or elements in a visually presented array, and to integrate those elements in a systematic way to achieve a coherent and organized whole. Another line of work examines the effects of early focal brain injury on the development of spatial cognitive functioning. That research has documented specific patterns of spatial cognitive deficit associated with injury to different brain regions. Work with normal children provides the baseline data necessary for the kinds of detailed work required in the study of children with brain focal injury.
Larry R. Squire, Ph.D. Department of Psychiatry, UCSD
Dr. Squire studies the neuropsychology of memory in humans and non-human. His research involves studies of identified patients with amnesia. The analysis of such cases provides useful information about the structure and organization of normal memory. He also studies non-human primates in an effort to understand anatomy of memory functions in collaboration with S. Zola. The goal is to identify medial temporal lobe and diencephalic structures important for memory.